It may seem surprising, but platforms designed for loans and lending through the use of cryptocurrencies are a relatively new development for the crypto industry. Each platform adheres to its own strategy, but the idea shared by all is that users put their cryptocurrency into an automated smart contract as collateral for a loan.
The contract tracks accrued interest and credit payments and also prevents anyone from interfering in this process. Unlike traditional lending, there is no need for credit checks and scoring, as well as for the lender to seriously consider the option of physical pressure on the borrower.
A young industry
Cryptocurrency loans platforms began to develop during the bear market of 2018, as crypto prices became critically low at the peak of the downturn. At the time, owners of digital currencies who didn’t want to sell their crypto at low prices lent out their holdings and made money on interest.
The popularity of lending in digital currencies has grown for several reasons:
Low interest rates
Increase in the number of traders and investors for whom receiving funds immediately in cryptocurrencies is convenient
A simplified system of requirements for borrowers; those who hadn’t been approved for bank loans could easily receive digital money
Today, the entire crypto loaning industry is estimated at $4.7 billion and the number of crypto loan platforms is growing rapidly, according to a report made by blockchain company Graychain Ltd. While lenders have only earned a combined $86 million in interest since 2018, the demand for cryptocurrency loans is growing. In the first quarter of 2019, over 5,400 new loans were issued, and in the second, at least 18,500. The volume of lending also increased, with lenders issuing $64.8 million in loans in the first quarter and $159.3 million in the second.
Thus, it is clear that, despite its newness, high risks, and very low profitability, this new crypto industry is gaining momentum. There are also critics of crypto loans who claim that crypto credit is expanding too quickly and will explode, as the signs of a bubble in this area are too similar to the traditional problems of financial markets: low lending standards and an excessive supply of funds with little demand and increased risk.
Which loan to choose and where
Crypto lending can be divided into two main areas: depository and undetectable.
Depositary lending is more centralized. It involves securing a loan through a trusted third party, who is given a significant level of authority through complete control over user assets, setting interest rates, and acting as a counterparty in each transaction.
Depositary lending is the most popular form of crypto loan and is used by several large credit companies, such as Genesis Capital, Celcius Network, Salt Lending and others.
The second crypto lending path is non-custodial in nature and more decentralized, which better serves traders and retail investors. This type of lending is mainly supported by the developing class of decentralized applications created on Ethereum.
Using smart contracts, these platforms can create a system in which users don’t need to trust centralized authorities, as smart contracts show all the processes throughout the entire life cycle of the loan and are automatically repaid. Paul Murphy, co-founder and CEO of Graychain, a crypto credit rating platform, believes that finding a convenient service is not a problem:
“In places with thriving, well-developed financial systems crypto is being absorbed as new asset class. This will continue to happen under the watchful eyes of regulators. Despite the constraints we can expect to see innovation because of crypto’s unique properties. We can expect to see crypto lending continue to develop in places like the US, EU, Japan, HK, and Singapore.”
Murphy believes that in less developed countries, where traditional finance has a weak foothold, regulatory structures are weak, and many citizens are unbanked, cryptocurrencies allow a new financial system to emerge:
“We are currently seeing the most activity in South East Asia but also lots of interest throughout Africa. There is some interesting work being done in Latin America, but most interesting projects are moving out of the region. This isn’t surprising as many people in Latin America have relatively close ancestral ties to Europe.”
Crypto loans platform comparison
Spread out all over the world, below are the most distinctive crypto lending platforms.
Founded in June 2017, BlockFi is a New Jersey-based crypto asset management company that allows users to earn interest and borrow money through offering crypto as collateral. BlockFi works with Gemini Trust Company, which is fully licensed by the New York State Department of Financial Services.
The company specializes in two types of services: interest-bearing accounts that earn money, and quick loans with Bitcoin, Ethereum and Litecoin.
Each loan is issued on the basis of a loan-to-value ratio. Since the loans offered by BlockFi are secured by assets, the company does not require credit score checks of its users. BlockFi customers receive money against their Bitcoin, Ethereum or Litecoin collateral with a loan-to-cost ratio of up to 50%.
The loan-to-value ratio determines how much collateral is required to get a certain amount in dollars. Collateral guarantees that the borrower will be interested in repaying the loan, and is used to repay the lender in the case of nonpayment.
Each loan issued by BlockFi is for a duration of 12 months, with the ability to make early payments at any time without commissions and penalties. BlockFi interest rates begin at 4.5%, depending on the loan-to-value ratio. BlockFi also enables its users to earn interest on deposits through the BlockFi Interest Account, which provides up to 8.6% per annum.
BlockFi generates interest by accepting deposited assets and providing them on credit to trusted third-party institutional and corporate borrowers. Such loans also have collateral and have the same structure as BlockFi crypto loans.
One of the first platforms in the market was SALT, short for Secure Automated Lending Technology. The project was founded in the United States in 2016. It is a blockchain-based lending platform that allows users to receive funds directly to their bank accounts. Currently, SALT Lending has expanded to 33 U.S. states and also operates in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Vietnam.
The most important participants of the platform are lenders, as SALT provides them with the infrastructure, flexibility and security necessary to accept coins without adding additional costs to the process. In exchange for these services, lenders pay for membership on the platform. The service never asks for a credit rating — instead, it uses only the value of collateral to determine the terms of the loan.
Lenders begin the process by publishing the terms on which they are ready to provide a loan. Borrowers can browse through various options and choose the one that best suits them. As soon as borrowers choose a loan, lenders hold the corresponding funds until the borrower provides a security using a smart contract. Funds are then sent directly to the bank account.
The borrowers then pay monthly installments toward their loan according to its terms, and when the loan is repaid, SALT releases the security deposit from the smart contract and returns it.
SALT Oracle creates a smart contract for each loan and credit event. To reduce the risk of nonpayment, the Oracle records all payments made on loans and monitors changes in the value of provided cryptocurrency collateral. Each loan starts with a credit-to-value ratio that is calculated based on current market prices.
SALT tokens, also known as membership tokens, are based on the ERC20 standard and are required to purchase membership on the platform. Bitcoin (BTC) and Ethereum (ETH) are both accepted on the platform, and as of April 2019, the company announced that it will also work with Dash as collateral for loans.
Established in 2017, Nexo is an instant lending platform that claims to have a military level of security (256-bit encryption). To start the loan process, users transfer assets to their secure Nexo wallets, where these assets come under the protection of the BitGo repository. Then, users may obtain instant credit. The platform accepts submissions of BTC, ETH, XPR, LTC, XLM, BCH, stablecoins, NEXO tokens and BNB as collateral.
After confirming the collateral, the Nexo Oracle evaluates the collateral and then calculates a suitable loan-to-value ratio. After the LTV is calculated, users receive money directly in the form of fiat or a stablecoin.
Repaying a loan to Nexo is quite flexible, as users are not required to repay monthly until their balance is less than the loan limit. Like SALT, Nexo tokens can be used to lower interest rates and repayments.
Borrowers can take advantage of a 50% discount on the loan’s interest rate if the security deposit or loan repayment is paid in Nexo tokens. Users of the platform can repay all or part of their loans at any time via bank transfer, cryptocurrencies or assets deposited in their Nexo wallet.
Once borrowers have repaid the entire loan amount along with interest, they can easily withdraw their crypto assets from their wallet. George Manolov, business development executive at Nexo, pointed out that users pay interest only on what they actually spend:
“Our customers only pay interest on the amount they borrow. In contrast, other lenders require you to withdraw the entire amount of a loan at the time of origination, meaning customers pay interest on their full loan.”
The Celsius Network was created in 2017 and is a crypto credit platform providing a new model of financial services that act in the best interest of the community. It has a mobile app that allows users to earn interest on stablecoins and a number of cryptocurrencies.
The Celsius platform allows borrowing money against crypto collateral at interest rates as low as 4.95% per annum. This interest rate works mainly for dollars as well as stablecoins such as USDT and USDC, and the minimum loan limit is $1,500, which needs to be backed by an equivalent amount in crypto.
Celsius has a full-fledged transaction instrument called CelPay, which works as a wallet that allows free cryptocurrency transfers from one wallet to another. Furthermore, Celsius Network charges no fees for withdrawals, deposits, transactions or early terminations. The platform has its own token, CEL, which is purely a service token that is used to provide users with discounts on borrowing and deposit services.
Additionally, any user can become a lender by putting their crypto into cold storage and earning interest from it. Regardless of the amount that users are ready to put in, they earn weekly interest in either the same token deposited or the native CEL token.
At the moment, Celsius Network is one of the biggest crypto loan platforms in the world, reaching $4.25 billion in total crypto loans in November.
YouHodler is a Swiss company that specializes in providing a cryptocurrency line of credit and a cryptocurrency exchange platform. Founded in 2018, the company’s mission is to minimize passive ownership, allowing investors to earn interest on their assets or borrow money.
One of the most core products offered by YouHodler are cryptocurrency loans, available in tokens such as BTC, ETH, XRP, Dash, LTC and so on. Depending on the token, users can choose one of the available plans, which differ by loan period. For example, users can choose plans that range from 55% to 95% in cost ratio, from 5% to 40% in price reduction, and a loan period from 30 days to 180 days.
The company does not perform any credit checks, as user credit scores are meaningless to the loan application process. Borrowed money is fully secured by cryptocurrency and is based on the loan-to-value ratio. Because of this, even if users cannot repay their loan, their credit score will not be affected.
Additionally, YouHodler has a Turbocharge service, which allows users to get a chain of loans. The platform uses borrowed fiat to purchase additional cryptocurrency without commission and then uses it as collateral for other loans in the chain. Ilya Volkov, CEO of YouHodler, says the option is popular among traders:
“Clients were using loans to buy more crypto to use as collateral for yet another loan and then using that again to buy more crypto for collateral. They would do this process manually multiple times. So, we invented an automated tool that completed this chain for them in one click.”